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Univ. of Hawaii Prez Distances Herself From Antigay Letter

Univ. of Hawaii Prez Distances Herself From Antigay Letter

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The president of the University of Hawaii is joining other business leaders who are distancing themselves from a letter sent to Gov. Linda Lingle urging her to veto a bill that would legalize civil unions.

University system president M.R.C. Greenwood sent a letter to Lingle June 18 stating that she did not agree with the stance of the Hawaii Business Roundtable, which has called for Lingle to veto the bill. Greenwood emphasized the university's own nondiscrimination policies, which were reaffirmed as recently as June 2009.

The university has not issued an official statement decrying the letter, but Greenwood issued a statement in addition to the letter, saying that the board of regents enforces its code of "nondiscrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender identity and expression, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, arrest and court records, sexual orientation, or status as a covered veteran. I firmly support this policy of nondiscrimination."

Greenwood also mentioned that she was not one of the members of the roundtable's executive board, which officially submitted the letter. The June 4 plea to the governor says that local business owners would have to bear the burden of covering the costs of benefits and legal exemptions for civil partners.

"It is recommended that a commission be established to develop a recommendation for the state legislature to consider in 2011," the letter reads. "The commission should include representatives from a broad constituency to provide thoughtful input which could result in meaningful legislation that will minimize the potential for legal challenges and long-term problems."

Gary Kai, executive director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable, told The Advocate on Tuesday that the letter reflects only the position of the 10 executive board members and not that of the 48 nonexecutive members, including Greenwood.

"Each member has to make their own decision as to what their stance is on the bill," he said. "They're perfectly free to do so."

The Honolulu Civil Beat reports, however, the Business Roundtable's bylaws bar the organization from taking a stance on any matter of public policy without the consensus of more than 75% of its members.

Arthur Ushijima, president and CEO of Queen's Health Systems and a member of the executive board, told Civil Beat on Monday, "The group tries to represent the sentiment of the membership, and so that is really how it acted." He also said the letter was not to address policy to ask the governor to examine the issue of legalizing civil unions further.

However, the Human Rights Campaign have both pointed out that non-executive members were not aware of the executive board wrote and sent the letter. One board member told Civil Beat that it had not heard about the letter until he or she received a courtesy copy from Kai.

"Never, to my knowledge, has the executive committee set policy without even a discussion with the full membership let alone a vote or even a straw vote," the unnamed board member said.

Several of the companies represented by the Roundtable are also on the HRC's list of companies that have shown LGBT-friendly work environments and policies like Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Aon Corp., and Time Warner Cable. Each of those companies, along with Marsh & MacLennan Companies Inc., and Marriot International Inc. have issued public statements distancing themselves from the letter.

"While we are active members of the Business Roundtable and believe it to be a beneficial organization for the people of Hawaii, we do not agree with every decision that the Roundtable makes. The letter to Governor Lingle urging her not to support House Bill 444 is one such instance," a joint statement issued through the HRC said.

Lingle has until July 6 to issue her final decision as to whether she will veto the civil unions bill.
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